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Malhar Dave Flipping The Switch To Battery Powered Rickshaws

Malhar Dave Flipping The Switch To Battery Powered Rickshaws

 

Report by : Simon Muli

When the first batch of electric three-wheelers landed at the port of Mombasa, they couldn’t be cleared through customs because the system would not accept vehicles which didn’t have engine numbers. An exception therefore had to be made by the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA), paving way for the birth of the first ever electric rickshaw in Kenya. It was a visionary dream come true for the Directors of Dave Tuk Tuk Kenya Limited (DTTKL), Malhar Dave and Altaf Kana; one that saw the intrepid duo present to the market an opportunity to make the big switch from the more toxic fossil fuel-powered rickshaws to the rather more innocuous battery-powered alternatives. In a world that is battling global warming and governments
increasingly conscious about the impact of their carbon footprint, the chartered accountant intimates that the zero emission technology is both, environmentally and economically viable now more than ever.

Not long ago, driving an electric tuk-tuk on Kenyan roads was awfully hard to imagine. What motivated you to start manufacturing them?

My partner, Altaf and I were thinking of
doing something new and unique. Being based out of Mombasa, where a lot of tuk-tuks were coming into the market, we saw they were more of a nuisance and a hassle, due to the pollution and noise they brought. We therefore set out to find a solution to this and that was the electric tuk-tuk.

How is the electric tuk-tuk a solution?

The electric tuk-tuk is completely battery-operated; you can charge it as you do your mobile phone. It also doesn’t cause any pollution, because it doesn’t emit any smoke or any noise whatsoever. It is very eco-friendly and 100% go-green project. We can even recycle the battery. It is also easy to drive because it doesn’t have gears, save for one button that says drive and another that says reverse.

Right, so how did you go about manufacturing this eco-friendly product?

We developed the design, which is
approved by the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS) and the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) as well as internationally. After we did our research, we leased a
factory in China where we are manufacturing and bringing the product to Kenya for assembling in Mombasa. Once it is cleared out of the port, each unit can be assembled within three to four hours.

Why not manufacture locally as well?

Right now, we lack the know-how and the capital investment in Kenya. But as we are running the factory in China, of course our people are sitting there and they are leaning the processes of manufacturing. Eventually, when we have the capacity to do that kind of investment into the infrastructure and
machinery here, it would be an ideal
scenario to do the manufacturing here.

Do you have a background in

manufacturing?

No and neither does my partner. I am a chartered accountant. I have run logistics and consultancy companies. However, both of us have always wanted to do something new and unique, which could add value to the local economy and we were ready to venture into new fields – which is what we have in DTKL.

Given that this is the first electric three-wheeler in Kenya, how did

the market receive it?

So far, the market reception has been exceptionally well because this product is not only eco-friendly, it is also economical. When you go 120 kilometers in your normal tuk-tuk, you need between Kshs 600 to Kshs 700 worth of fuel. The same distance with an electric tuk tuk will cost you electricity worth Kshs 40. For someone running a tuk-tuk business, a daily saving of about Kshs 600 is substantial; this translates to about Kshs 18,000 extra. Granted, they would have to change the battery every year, but even then, they will recoup the cost in three to three–and–a–half months. Our price is also 15% to 20% cheaper than the other normal tuk-tuks, which makes it affordable in comparison. It also doesn’t work on an engine. Instead, it has a motor and therefore doesn’t need servicing every month. This also helps save money. We are also helping the Kenyan economy improve on their carbon footprint, as well as  on larger scale where we face challenges such as global warming. During the UN Environment Assembly in Nairobi last December, our product was
appreciated. The Kenyan government and the Ministry of Environment have also appreciated this product because it is a Kenyan idea and that we are
assembling the product locally.

You talk of economic and maintenance benefits that these new electric three-wheelers bring. But one cannot overlook the challenges of
performance and charging time issues. How do you address that?

A tuk-tuk operated in Mombasa does, on average, 80 kilometers on a daily basis. Still, we’re giving them a range of 120 kilometers so that even on an odd day, when they have to do an extra run, they have enough power to do so. Those who want to do double shifts – both during the day and at night- we provide them an option of buying spare batteries. All they have to do is ensure all the batteries are charged; when they run out of power, they can change them.

One of the key drivers of uptake in three-wheelers is subsidies and tax incentives. Do you have that here?

Not yet, but I am sure our government is looking into it. It wants to encourage the use of electrical vehicles. It is part of the government’s Vision 2030 as well.

What challenges have you faced in your quest to introduce the electric rickshaw in Kenya?

Initially, when we were importing for the first time in Kenya, the KRA system requires that any vehicle that comes into Kenya provide details of the engine including the chassis number, the engine number and engine capacity. Our tuk-tuks don’t have engines, so the KRA system couldn’t accept it. But now they have given us an exception. It took us quite some time to get it approved. Electric vehicles also come with a charging unit that can be plugged into a standard 110-volts outlet; in Kenya, we only have 240-volts outlets. Our
options were, either to make tuk-tuks chargeable with 240-volts outlet or have separate charging stations with 110- volts everywhere. We chose the former; with the aid of a portable converter. Now, it is possible to charge the tuk-tuk from an ordinary household outlet. We are still working on county approvals. Some have given us the greenlight but others haven’t. These say that there are already too many tuk-tuks on the roads and they want to control those first then they can give us a license to sell as a replacement unit.

Eventually when you get the licenses, are you going to proceed alone or you are partnering with vendors and distributers?

We are putting our distributors or dealers across the country, because we want them to provide after-sales service in terms of spare parts, et cetera.  We already have our dealers in the coast region and in Nairobi. We are looking for dealers in areas like Kisumu, Eldoret, Kitale and Nakuru. We are almost finalising somebody in Machakos.

Finally, where do you see DTTKL in the future?

We want to commit ourselves more to electric vehicles. In our next phase, we purpose to bring electric cargo tuk-tuks. This will cater for our corporate clients who are cargo movers. The phase thereafter, will see us bring in electric two-wheelers. We are purposing to partner with electric car manufacturers worldwide, but the challenge is that many of them want to manufacture left-hand drive cars which are more popular in Europe and America. We have not reached a level where we can manufacture full-fledged electric cars.

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